NFC North News, Notes and Quotes

Were the Bears trying to avoid spending money when it came to turning down a trade offer for Lance Briggs? The Lions have a novel concept: Let the film do the talking. And the Packers have their first female vice president in almost 90 years.


The Bears have not had "official" talks with any team other than the Redskins regarding malcontent linebacker Lance Briggs, but they clearly did not relish the idea of jumping at the financial responsibility that comes with the No. 6 overall selection, which was part of Washington's offer.

That pick would require a signing bonus in the neighborhood of $15 million, which is what they're trying to avoid with Briggs.

"There are (salary) cap ramifications to this as well," general manager Jerry Angelo said before the Bears rejected the Redskins' proposal. "We have to look at it from that standpoint. That's a lot of money, and that obviously weighs into any decision that we make."

Public opinion at the Bears' annual fan convention last weekend was unanimous that the team should not capitulate to Briggs' demands if it isn't in the best interests of the team. Some fans who attended a question-and-answer session with Angelo, coach Lovie Smith and team president Ted Phillips wore tee-shirts that read: "Let him sit," featuring Briggs' No. 55 with a slash though it.

Angelo is also aware of the repercussions that could result from the perception that the Bears caved to a petulant player's demands.

"That's a perception, but there's no fear," Angelo said. "When things come up, we treat them individually. I've always said this: We're always going to do what's in the best interest of our football team. We can't operate based on perception. Certainly we're cognizant of perception. But ultimately and at the end of the day, we're going to do what's in our best interest."

Angelo met privately with Briggs earlier last week at the owners' meetings in Phoenix, Ariz., to clear the air after the player and his agent had spent weeks taking their gripes public.

"I said that I didn't think that that served anybody's best interest," Angelo said. "(Briggs) has always been a class act. Going forward, my advice (to him) would be to continue to handle matters with class. He understands what he's doing, and hopefully in the end it works out for everybody."

While the popular belief is that agent Drew Rosenhaus is orchestrating the anti-Bears campaign, using Briggs as the mouthpiece to force a trade, Angelo didn't exonerate the linebacker.

"When somebody speaks, I have to take it as that's what they feel," the Bears' general manager said. "I'm not going to characterize Lance as a puppet. Whatever he says is what he feels. That's the way I treat things."


  • Bears coach Lovie Smith has been asked repeatedly if he is confident in Cedric Benson's ability to fill the role of the team's featured runner in the absence of Thomas Jones, who was traded to the Jets.

    Since being chosen fourth overall in the 2005 draft, Benson has played a supporting role while Jones rushed 610 times for 2,545 yards.

    "Cedric will step into Thomas Jones' role, but we need another running back in the mix," Smith said. "I definitely think Adrian Peterson can step into that role. Every time we've given him a chance to play, he's played well. I'm excited about the opportunity he has in front of him."

    Benson had 157 carries last season after getting just 67 as a rookie. In his final seven regular-season games, Benson averaged an impressive 4.7 yards per attempt. Peterson got just 10 rushing attempts last season, but he averaged a team-best 5.1 yards per carry on 76 attempts in 2005.

    "Thomas Jones did a lot of our ball club," Smith said. "He was a great leader; good player. But we drafted Cedric Benson early, he showed a lot of promise last year, and we feel like it's his time to take the lead position. With the outstanding offensive line that we have, we'll always be a running football team. We'll always have a great running back, and I think Cedric Benson is ready to really step up and be one of the better backs in the league."

  • Bears defensive tackles Tommie Harris and Dusty Dvoracek, both former Oklahoma Sooners, are coming off injuries.

    Dvoracek, a third-round pick last year, missed his entire rookie season after having foot surgery. Harris' second Pro Bowl season in three years as a pro was ended after 12 games because of a torn hamstring.

    "I feel good," Harris said. "I can run; I can explode off it. (Ravens linebacker) Ray Lewis told me I was farther ahead of where he was last year when he did it."

    Even though he didn't play a single regular-season snap, Dvoracek said his rookie season wasn't wasted.

    "I got to know how everything works at the NFL level," Dvoracek said. "Coach Smith told me every week, ‘You're not going to be a rookie next year.' I'd go to meetings, and I did everything with the team, and it helped me a lot. I watched a lot of film, learned a lot of things and I'll be ready to go."

  • Backup DT Dusty Dvoracek recently made a personal contribution to charity with an assist from fellow DT and Oklahoma Sooner Tommie Harris.

    "A few weeks ago Tommie came to Oklahoma City, and I was (planning to cut) my hair, and he found out about it," said Dvoracek, whose mane extended well beyond his shoulders. "I donated 10 inches to Locks for Love, and he came up to Oklahoma City and he cut it for me."

    Locks for Love uses donated hair to makes wigs for cancer patients.

    "So somebody's getting to wear my lovely locks," Dvoracek said.

  • Speaking to appreciative listeners at the Bears' fan convention, coach Lovie Smith recapped some of the high points of the 2006 season, which included the improbable comeback victory on the road over the Cardinals. Smith admitted the Bears fell short of their ultimate goal last season but he's optimistic about the coming season.

    "We haven't accomplished our No. 1 goal," Smith said. "(But) we do know how to win in Arizona, and we're looking forward to hopefully playing (there) this year."

    The Cardinals' Glendale, Ariz., stadium is the site of Super Bowl XLII.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Right now we're going to treat it the same way as when he didn't come in last year when he missed the OTAs. The backup guys have to be ready, and our backup guys are going to get a lot of opportunities this spring, and we'll see what comes out of that." — New Bears defensive coordinator Bob Babich on the expected absence of LB Lance Briggs.


    Lions coach Rod Marinelli says he's looking for football character. But how do you find it?

    Marinelli starts with the film.

    "The film doesn't lie," he says.

    Marinelli doesn't discount measurables — height, weight, bench press, 40 time — but he tries not to read too much into them, either. A player might measure well, but if he doesn't use those assets to the utmost by showing heart on the field, they don't matter as much.

    This is especially important high in the draft. Sometimes teams are seduced by talent. Sometimes teams are afraid to make mistakes because the picks are so important and so scrutinized, so they lean on data. Sometimes they find great athletes who aren't great football players.

    In the later rounds, teams accept that players have some shortcomings. They feel freer to pick players they like simply because they like how they play. They find football players.

    So Marinelli watches the film — then goes back to it again and again. But he doesn't stop there.

    In interviews, Marinelli likes to throw prospects off-guard with tough, direct questions. He's looking for honest answers, not scripted responses.

    Marinelli also says he calls all kinds of people for background — college coaches, high school coaches, strength and conditioning coaches, counselors; anyone who can give a perspective on what the player is really like.


  • The third exhibition is supposed to be the most telling, because the starters stay in the longest, and the Lions have had some foreboding third exhibitions. Two years ago? The Lions got smoked by the Rams, 37-13, on "Monday Night Football." They finished 5-11. Last year? The Lions flew to Oakland the day of the game and lost to the Raiders, 21-3. They finished 3-13. This year? The Lions visit the Colts, the defending Super Bowl champions.

  • A side story to the Lions-Colts exhibition will be Rod Marinelli and Tony Dungy. Marinelli broke into the NFL when Dungy hired him as his defensive line coach in Tampa Bay in 1996. Marinelli is trying to build the Lions much like Dungy built the Bucs and Colts, and Dungy thinks he can do it. "He will be fine, and he will continue to bring those players on, and they'll get better," Dungy said in November. "He's not going to change, and that's one of the great things I think his players will benefit from. That's the way I was."

  • The Lions and Bengals will play an exhibition for the first time in six years. The teams played one every year from 1970 until 2001. The Lions will continue their traditional exhibition match-ups with the Browns and Bills. The Lions will open at home against Cincinnati, visit Cleveland and Indy, then close at home with Buffalo.

  • The Lions reportedly will open the season at Oakland. The Raiders hold the No. 1 pick in the draft. The Lions hold the second pick. That presumably will add a little spice to a match-up of the NFL's two worst teams last season.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Spending the past four years in Detroit, it was like in the bottom of the barrel. Here, a 9-7 season won't be tolerated. There, 9-7, 10-6 is a great season. I am excited to be at a place that expects to win." — CB Dre' Bly, talking to Denver reporters about leaving the Lions for the Broncos.


    She has one of the longest and easily mispronounced surnames among NFL executives, but Vicki Vannieuwenhoven on April 3 inherited a far greater distinction.

    Vannieuwenhoven (pronounced Van-even-hoven) was promoted within the Packers front office to vice president of finance. She is the first female vice president in the 89-year history of pro football's oldest franchise.

    She joins the slim pool of about 40 women who have high-ranking executive roles with the league's 32 teams.

    "Honestly, I never even looked at it from that perspective," Vannieuwenhoven told the Green Bay Press-Gazette. "I'm happy to say in my experience with the Packers, gender has never been a factor in decision-making.

    "(But) considering that, it is definitely an honor to be considered that way."

    Team president John Jones made the appointment of Vannieuwenhoven, 40, for the VP role. She previously was the director of finance since 1999 and has been with the club for 12 years, starting as an accountant.

    Vannieuwenhoven will be responsible for the financial operations of the franchise, which ranked seventh in the league for revenue in 2006. She'll assist Jones on economic issues in the league, including revenue sharing.

    "She's demonstrated considerable acumen with respect to the financial operations of the team and will continue to be a key leader in ongoing employee training and staff development," Jones said.

    Jones is in the transition phase of assuming the leadership post of the Packers. He will officially succeed Bob Harlan, who has reached the mandatory retirement age of 70, as chief executive officer at the club's board of directors meeting May 30.

    Besides giving the expanded duties to Vannieuwenhoven, Jones named Jason Wied vice president of administration. Wied, 35, has been the Packers' corporate counsel since 2000.


  • Linebacker A.J. Hawk will stick to playing only football for a living, but the one-time baseball player had a blast hanging out with the Milwaukee Brewers before their home game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 4.

    Hawk swung for the fences during a cameo appearance in batting practice and actually cleared them twice.

    The 23-year-old Hawk last played organized baseball when he was 13 growing up in Ohio.

    "I was glad I hit a couple out. I wasn't sure if I could do that with a wooden bat because I really have never hit with a wooden bat," Hawk said. "You definitely get tired doing this. It's a different type of conditioning than football."

    Hawk, who later threw out the ceremonial first pitch for the game, is in the midst of participating in the Packers' off-season conditioning program. He was the team's tackles leader as a rookie last season.

    "I'm a football player, but this is fun. I'll do this anytime they want me to," Hawk said.

  • The Packers have all of their exclusive-rights free agents under contract after signing receiver Carlyle Holiday to a one-year contract with a base salary of $435,000.

    Still unsigned are three unrestricted free agents: quarterback Todd Bouman, defensive tackle Kenderick Allen and linebacker Ben Taylor.

    Allen, who missed the last 13 games in his first year with the Packers in 2006 because of a foot injury, has drawn interest from NFC North rival Detroit.

  • While the Packers await the release of the regular-season schedule by the league in the next couple weeks, they finalized their preseason schedule.

    The four-game exhibition schedule will start with a game Aug. 11 at Pittsburgh, boyhood home of Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy.

    The Packers will host former coach Mike Holmgren and Seattle on Aug. 18 and then Jacksonville on Aug. 23, the latter of which will be a nationally televised game on FOX.

    The slate concludes with an Aug. 30 contest at Tennessee. It's the sixth straight year the Packers will play the Titans to end the preseason.

  • Pro Bowl receiver Donald Driver will be among 10 players honored with a JB Award at the NFL Players Gala on April 12 in Washington, D.C.

    The award is presented by TV sportscaster James Brown in recognition of players' individual contributions to their communities.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "(Guys from other sports) get all jumpy, trying to launch. I just told him to keep his head down and still, and to use his hands." — Milwaukee Brewers hitting coach Jim Skaalen on the tips he gave to Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk, who took batting practice before the Brewers-Dodgers game April 4 and hit two home runs.

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